A Health Practitioners Guide
On First Nations People of Saskatchewan

• The Canadian Constitution acknowledges three groups of Aboriginal peoples, First Nations, Inuit and Métis. These are three unmistakeable peoples with remarkable histories, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

• There are 70 First Nations in Saskatchewan, 61 of which are affiliated to one of the nine Saskatchewan Tribal Councils. The total Registered population of Saskatchewan First Nations as of February 28, 2014, is 144,995.

• “Saskatchewan” is an Algonquian Indian word that comes from a Cree name meaning “swift river.” There were although other people living in this region. The proper self-given names of the First Nations of Saskatchewan are Nêhiyawak (Plains Cree), Nahkawininiwak (Saulteaux), Nakota (Assiniboine), Dakota and Lakota (Sioux), and Denesuline (Dene/Chipewyan).

• This region has been inhabited by First Nations peoples of Saskatchewan for approximately 11,000 years. Europeans brought external cultural and economic forces that would



• The Cree (Nehiyawak) has the most population of all nations in Canada. Cree First Nations inhabit the territory in the Subarctic region from Alberta to Québec, as well as parts of the Plains region in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

• The Cree are divided into eight groups based on dialect and region: Plains Cree, Woods Cree, Swampy Cree, James Bay/Eastern Cree, Moose Cree, and many other blended populations.

• Cree teenagers would pass into adulthood by going on a vision quest where they would go off on their own for several days and not eat until they had a vision. The vision would tell them their guardian spirit and direction in life.

• The name Cree comes from “Kristineaux”, or “Kri” for short; a name was given to Native Americans from the James Bay area by French fur traders. “Cree” rhymes with the English word “see.” It is a shortened form of the French word for the tribe, Kristeneaux, many still do not know where the word truly came from.



Cree Tribe for Kids – Ducksters

Cree History.

• The Denesuline, Dene or also known as Chipawyan people occupy Northern Saskatchewan from Lake Athabasca in the west to Wollaston Lake in the east.

• Denesuliné means ‘Human Beings.’ Chipewyan, a term given to Denesuline by the Cree during the fur trade era means ‘pointed toes.

• The Athabascan region comprises the Fond-du-Lac, Hatchet Lake, Black Lake, and Stoney Rapids First Nation bands; and the Churchill River Basin includes the Buffalo River, English River, Birch Narrows, and Clearwater River First Nations.

• The Dene belong to the Athapaskan linguistic group Na Dene. Linguistics refer to the Dene or Denesuliné dialect as Chipewyan. Denesuliné is spoken in the ‘ t’ dialect with the exception of those in Fond du Lac who speak the ‘k’ dialect.

• Dene language is rather prominent today with the majority of Dene’s knowing how to speak their language.

• Division of labour was by sex and age – Men would hunt and fish for big game while the women, elderly, and children hunted for small game and gathered berries.

• Children were responsible for hauling water, gathering wood, and picking berries. Older siblings were responsible for taking care of their younger siblings. Children in many of the northern Denesuliné communities were required to haul water up into the 1990s.

• The Denesuliné in Northern Saskatchewan are situated on reserve lands that were designated through an adhesion to Treaty 8 in 1899 and Treaty 10 in 1906.



• The Saulteaux or Plains Ojibway (Nahkawininiwak in their language) speak a language belonging to the Algonquian language family.

• The term Algonkin has gained its notoriety as being the largest native language group in North America.

• Algonquian speakers of the Great Plains include the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Gros Ventres, Blackfoot, Cree, and Ojibway.

• French explorers reported a community of Indians living near the falls of the St. Mary’s River (“Sault Ste. Marie”). The French called them “Saulteurs” or “People of the Falls.

• Nahkawininiwak leaders signed, on behalf of their various bands, Treaties 1 and 2. Later, in 1874 and 1876, Nahkawininiwak were signatories to Treaties 4 and 6. These four treaties ceded to the government of Canada much of the land of southern Manitoba and southern Saskatchewan, as well as portions of Alberta.

• Men were responsible for hunting large game, while women were responsible for tanning and processing hides into moccasins, leggings, breach cloths and dresses.



• Dakota people are comprised of four groups: The Bdewakantunwan (Mdewakanton), Wahpetunwan (Wahpeton), Wahpekute, and Sissitunwan (Sisseton) people from what is known as the Isanti (Santee), or eastern Dakota (a word that means ally).

• In Dakota society women have always held an essential role. They gathered wood, processed hides, farmed, made clothes, and were the central keepers of the home.

• Men hunted and fished to provide game for the entire village, while also securing community safety. In the spring, winter villages dispersed and men left on hunting parties while women, children, and the elderly moved into sugaring camps to make maple sugar and syrup.

• During the summer months families gathered in villages to hunt and fish. They processed the game and harvested traditional medicines and indigenous plants, as well crops such as corn, squash, and beans.

• During the War of 1812, the Dakota pledged their alliance to Britain, in return for oaths of perpetual obligation. This alliance was betrayed at the Treaty of Ghent (1814), when Britain abandoned its Indigenous allies as a term of peace. The Dakota then drew closer to their lands in the United States; however, though land use in Canada decreased, the northern territory was never abandoned.

• The Dakota were given reservations in Canada, and Whitecap originally settled in the Beaver Creek area in 1878. They moved further south to their current location in 1879 and eventually the reserve was legally surveyed in 1881. In August, 1882, Chief Whitecap counseled John Lake on the location for a new temperance colony that would become the City of Saskatoon. We have co-existed as good neighbors since and our alliance continues to this day.




• Lakota, meaning “friends or allies,” are Plains Indian peoples. They represent the largest of three divisions within the political body known as the Titonwan, along with the Dakota and Nakota.

• The Lakota are also known as the Western Sioux, although the latter is a pejorative name meaning “snakes in the grass,” applied to them by Algonquian-speaking neighbors to the east.

• Lakota also designates the language spoken by the seven bands of the Oceti Sakowin (seven council fires): Oglala, Sicangu, Mnicoujou, Itazipco, Oohenumpa, Sihasapa, and Hunkpapa.

• Often represented in media and film as the typical Indians of the Plains, the Lakota have historically been a nomadic people who organize their lives and ceremonies around the movement of the sun and stars.

• The Sun Dance is often considered the most important rite, and it is held during the summer when the moon is full. In times past a number of Plains bands of the Lakota would gather at a prearranged location for the annual meeting of the Oceti Sakowin; this was the occasion prior to Greasy Grass.

• For the Lakota, the nature of the universe is a whole, and above, below, and around are all part of that whole. Life is seen as a series of recurrent travels, and each person has a purpose to fulfill, one that will support and benefit the community.



• The Assiniboine are a Siouan-speaking people closely related linguistically to the Sioux and Stoney. The name Assiniboine derives from Ojibwa assini?- pwa? n, “stone enemy,” meaning “stone Sioux”. Nakota is their name for themselves and the language that they speak.

• Assiniboine’s were first encountered by Europeans in the woodlands and parklands, already adept canoe users in their role as trade middlemen.

• In 1737 La Vérendrye distinguished the Woodland Assiniboines, who knew how to take fur-bearing animals, from the Plains Assiniboines, who had to be taught. Communal buffalo hunting utilized dogs until horses were acquired. Assiniboines utilized the buffalo pound to entrap and process much larger quantities than could be taken by single hunters.

• The earliest written historical document available indicate that Nakota people were well established along the Saskatchewan and Athabasca Rivers during the 1700s. Several fur trading posts were explicitly opened along the Saskatchewan and Athabaska Rivers to attract the trade of the “Swampy Ground Stone People”, who are the ancestors of todays Alexis residents.

• In the 17th century Assiniboine territory extended westward from Lake Winnipeg and the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers into much of central and southern Saskatchewan. From the earliest descriptions, the Assiniboines allied with Algonquian-speaking Crees, and later, in the early to mid-19th century, with Saulteaux or western Ojibwas.

• Historical sources suggest a westward expansion of Assiniboine territory during the 18th century through the parklands of the central Saskatchewan River and into eastern Alberta; but these farthest reaches represented interaction spheres, and not a migration of fully articulated social groups reflecting the fur traders’ knowledge of the western prairies.



  • Beginning in the early 1600s, the British Crown entered several treaties with Indigenous nations in Canada. The treaties were intended as formal agreements to encourage peaceful relations and to specify promises, obligations and benefits for both parties.
  • Aboriginal Peoples were strictly an oral tradition, they were unable to read over the documents they signed; there was also to have been a language barrier between the Agents of the Crown and the First Nations people.
  • The number of native children who attended residential schools was around 150,000 children. They made up 30 percent of all native children. While in attendance, around 6,000 of them died.
  • After the Indian Act in 1876 enacted, the system of residential schools was active. The last residential school was in Saskatchewan and closed in 1996.
  • The federal government and other groups of the residential school system committed an act of cultural genocide. As students left these institutions, they returned to their home without the knowledge, skills or tools to cope in either world. The impacts of their institutionalization in residential schools continue to be felt by the following generations. This is called intergenerational trauma.
  • Physical health outcomes linked to residential schooling included poorer general and self-rated health, increased rates of chronic and infectious diseases. Effects on mental and emotional well-being included mental distress, depression, addictive behaviours and substance misuse, stress, and suicidal behaviours.



Treaties in Canada Education Guide and Worksheets

It is important to keep it mind when working with First Nations people to understand the magnitude of intergenerational trauma and the role is plays on mental health. Trauma resulted from Colonization, Residential School’s, and the Sixtees Scoop and has been felt through each generation with the effects still around to this day. 

Here are a list of resources you can read for additional and more in-depth information on First Nations people of Saskatchewan.


Residential School’s in Canada – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Intergenerational Trauma & Residential Schools

Indigenous Peoples of Saskatchewan – University of Saskatchewan

Residential schools and the effects on Indigenous health and well-being in Canada—a scoping review

The Sixtees Scoop & Aboriginal Child Welfare

Sixties Scoop

For Indigenous people in Canada, their experiences have been in rooted in multigenerational oppression, injustices, and trauma since colonization and the implementation of Residential School’s.

The trauma Indigenous people have experienced due to Residential Schools has reverberated through individuals, families, communities, and entire populations that can still be seen to this day.

The trauma experienced has affected the health and well-being of Indigenous people and has caused psychological, physiological, and social disparities that is often seen as poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental illness to name a few.

It is important that Indigenous people interrupt the feelings of shame, loss, and self-hatred they might be feeling in order to end the intergenerational trauma and to begin healing.

As a primary health practitioner, it is your job to understand the background and obstacles that Indigenous people face here in Saskatchewan so that you can play an imperative part in helping their healing journey.